A Reflection on the lost years: Jumping from first-year to upperclassman

Jaime Fields, Campus Life Editor

When we went home in March of my first year at Whitman, we were convinced that we would be back by the fall, that we were only losing a few months. Then fall came and we were online, spring came and we were in a hybrid format. Time passed strangely.

Suddenly, I was a junior. It was our first fully in-person semester since the start of the pandemic, and I was an upperclassman–expected to carry on traditions and be a resource for underclassmen who were new to the school when I still felt like an underclassman myself.

The seniors graduating this year are the last class to have experienced a full in-person non-pandemic year at Whitman. These seniors carry the knowledge of many traditions, especially spring traditions that have been impossible with the pandemic, that almost nobody left at Whitman will remember. With each consecutive class that has graduated during the pandemic, the knowledge of how things were is disappearing.

That is not necessarily always a bad thing–it’s okay for some traditions to die out and for new ones to be born. Club leadership groups will come up with new events and traditions. But it is still sad; Traditions that have survived for years, from full-on formal events to silly Whitman legends, are being forgotten.

When I was a first-year, the seniors told me many stories: the ghosts in the theatre, the secret tunnels, the campus traditions. I did not take as much note of them as I should have: I thought that by the time I was a senior, those stories would have been told to me so many times by the students in the grades above me that I would never forget them. But now here I am, almost a senior myself, and the events where people would usually tell those stories have not taken place in years.

I am a part of leadership for several clubs, and this year in particular, I have been trying to bring back annual events that I had never even been to. However, due to the ongoing pandemic, this year’s events were smaller than they once were: a drama picnic instead of an end-of-year banquet, a students-only Renaissance Faire instead of one open to the community. Next year, when I am a senior and putting on these events, hopefully to their full capacity, I will have to do so without the help of anyone who has actually been to one on my leadership team–all of the club members who had these events when they were first-years are graduating.

There are some students who took gap years and have been to some of these events, of course, and I know that there will always be alumni who I can reach out to, but there is still a weight there–it is much harder to revive an event that hasn’t been done in years than it is to continue with an annual tradition. There will be a learning curve.

But the traditions that mean the most will be kept alive by the students who care, and new ones are always being built. Traditions have always faded in and out, the pandemic has just emphasized that in an extreme way. While time and knowledge have both been lost, students have shown incredible resilience–and perhaps the new traditions that we make during this time will go on to be there for years to come.